( Muktibodh was born on 13 November, 1917.This article is a tribute to him to mark the beginning of his birth-centenary)
It is a coincidence that November marks the beginning of the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution and also the Hindi poet Muktibodh. The fates of the two however have taken two divergent trajectories.
The life of the revolution turned out to be very short, it could not last out the century it was born. The poet on the other hand, though he died when he was not even 46, has seen his significance growing constantly.
Muktibodh was a Marxist and is considered to be a poet who longed for revolution. But the revolution demanded from its followers to surrender themselves to the Party, which was absolute. They were expected to be a mere reflection of this absolute self. Muktibodh, on the other hand is interested in the life history of each soul. He seeks to create a community of selves in which each one will be autonomous.
This autonomous self is again a creation. Or, a striving. More important than the destination is the journey. It is not surprising that for Muktibodh journey was the most favourite metaphor. He describes his poems as endless journeys. It is not the pleasure of relief or sense of accomplishment that his poems are looking for. They seek the joy of searching, travelling, getting lost in the process of creation of this self.
This struggle is solitary and collective at the same time. More important than the end arethe companionships that are forged in this endeavour. The value of a self can only be measured by the nature of relationships it has created. Looked this way, the human self is a relational entity.
This relationship does not allow you to rest. Muktibodh calls for an awareness of the agony of a blazing relationship. In one of his poems , Lakshman tells Urmila that the human predicaments of the 20th century have brought them to the jungle to find new connects. “This exile has transformed us, we are now new”.
We know that the temptation to forge a new man has caused immense human tragedy. For Muktibodh human lives could not be mere means to an end, however sublime the end might be.
The newness , according to poet is only an attempt to transcend one’s confines , to be able to be aware of the individuality of the other. Also to break free of the ordinariness and dailyness of our robotic lives. It can be done only by rejecting the paths prescribed with as assurance of totality or absoluteness.In a poem Mujhe Nahi Maloom , he laments that his co-travellers, this earth and the planets keep revolving in the same orbits. Not that they do not have the force of their own gravity but they cannot break free of the mechanical paths given to them. If only they had the courage to roam around, to get lost in the unknown! If nothing else, it could have at least resulted in new,unfamiliar graphs and maps of errors. It would have shattered the impuissant totalities.
Human liberation is another abiding theme in the writings of Muktibodh. But it can be approached in divergent ways, the forms of exploration can be diverse. There is nothing as an final point in this quest, the ultimate always eludes us. One achieves oneself in this voyage. But as earlier there is no telos, so the search is also eternal.
Muktibodh has been described as a poet of darkness, of horror. Talking about his first book of poetry, Ashok Vajpeyi writes that Mutibodh wanted it to be named Saharsh Sweekaara Hai(I embrace with joy) but he felt it to be most inappropriate given the dark nature of the writings of Muktibodh. There is neither joy nor acceptance in him, he felt and the first collection of his poetry was titled Chand ka munh tedha hai( The face of the moon is crooked). This single act of his dear ones has misled generations of readers. He is seen as a poet of foreboding of the disaster humanity is heading towards, of emergencies, of losses, of accidents, of failures. He is also seen as a poet of human frailties, of their incapacity to take significant decisions. He has been mostly seen as a poet of guilt.
It is true that darkness prevails in his poems. But this darkness is not always an abode of human fears. Mostly the darkness of his creation is pregnant with possibilities, an invitation. Plans are made, unknown corners discovered, friendships forged in this darkness. This darkness merges with fragrance of flowers but the source remains elusive. Darkness also becomes an expanse to be traversed by crossing unseen paths.
The writings of Muktibodh, especially his poems are full of excitement of finding new friends, of discovering co-travellers. His characters are constantly in motion,but not on fixed paths, they meander and wander.
The bodies of the characters of Muktibodh are full of hurt. Scarred , wounded, bleeding, they try to break open the crevice of dailyness to find the meaning of human life. They are laboring bodies but they also thinking and feeling bodies. They are not merely subjects of philosophy, they themselves are philosophers.
Sense and sensibility in Muktibodh are twins. There is no knowledge without feeling, no reason without sensibility. There is no hierarchy between the two either. Attainment of knowledge is therefore a human necessity and it is an individual task. You feel only when you know. Knowledge also necessarily means transcendence.
Muktibodh talks about the responsibilities of knowledge and sentiments. We fear knowledge and we also shun real feelings because they ask us to come out of our secure confines which are in fact prisons of our souls, to scale mountains and to cross unbridgeable distances. All this is too risky. But then, human existence is in itself an adventure. How can you claim humanity if you donot accept the challenge of knowledge and sentiments?
Muktibodh remained a Marxist till his last day but his destination like for Marx was not a socialist state as it is generally understood. He wants to reach a state where he can say, “Pratyek Manu ke putra par vishvas karna chahta hoon”( I want to trust every human being).
The yearning is then for intimacy, of understanding,of love. But it is an ethical intimacy, an intimacy which is not exclusive,nor restrictive, rather an ever expanding one. The question, therefore, that lingers at the end of the iconic poem “Andhere Mein” is: “Will a lover ever be found?”
( An abridged version of the article was published in the Indian Express on 12 November, 2016)